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COVID-19: Avoiding Misinformation and Conducting Credible Research

This guide intends to offer a bit of guidance on where to look for credible information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as how to avoid misinformation where possible.

Boolean Operators: Building Conceptual Relationships Toward a More Robust Search Vocabulary

Boolean searching simply means using terms such as AND, OR, NOT to develop connections between specific words or phrases in order to retrieve more relevant results. Adding AND to a search string will indicate that the researcher is looking for content that mentions ALL of the terms indicated, which might yield a more narrow result list. Using an OR search indicates the researcher has a baseline understanding of their terms and wants to see information in a context where either term used will suffice. Trying a simple Google search on coronavirus will, without a doubt, retrieve a lot of information. Within this large result list, there will be content referencing specific pandemics, but anything remotely mentioning coronavirus...which may not be very efficient. Depending on where one looks for information, the virus/disease/pandemic will be referenced in multiple ways. Perhaps turning to an authoritative source, such as the World Health Organization, is a good first step in developing a baseline vocabulary that can be curated and refined as more terms are encountered throughout the process. 

According to the W.H.O on one of their guidance pages, there is reference to a virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or (SARS-COV-2), that causes the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Since these are related, it stands to reason some publications might've used EITHER term, or perhaps both, when discussing the pandemic.

In a Google search, for example, try the following as separate searches:

Note how using OR will often yield more results than an AND search using similar search terms, but the real value comes in discovering source that otherwise would have been much more difficult to locate. Using OR can be a useful tool when trying to "stitch" together terms one has come across that all attempt to (or claim to ) refer to the same concept. Use it as a tool to get a better idea of the types of media or scholarly outlets using which terms, and how that might influence your own research. Aside from the medical issues being researched during this pandemic, this is also useful for conducting rhetoric, communications, or economic impact studies, to name a few.

For instance, try this search in Google:

(Wuhan Virus) AND (political rhetoric)

What sort of publications are driven to the top of the result list? 

Experiment with different combinations of terms and Boolean operators, and explore multidisciplinary research questions.

If interested in looking into the long term financial health of the United States, perhaps this could be a start:
(economic impact) AND (coronavirus) AND (United States)

For further development, using these and more robust search strategies in conjunction with some of our academic databases will push your research toward more credible, academic options as well.




Domain Searching on the Web

Conducting research on the web can be a great way to engage with the many voices contributing to the conversations around the COVID-19 pandemic. News media (newspapers, websites, networks), blogs, official policy documentation, academic publications, and many that don't quite fit into one category. The experience can be a bit noisy and muddled if one doesn't filter a bit. One suggestion to add to your research tool kit is the practice of domain searching when using a search engine such as Google. Rather than totally relying on Google's own relevancy algorithms, indicate which web domains you'd like to focus on. Pay attention to the end of those urls you are encountering. Once you ahve selected the terms for your query, try adding "site:." followed by a domain such as edu (ex.-- ; For example, if you are looking for information published by the federal government about social distancing recommendations, you are looking for sources ending in .gov, such as If you focus on the .org domains, you'll encounter non-profits (such as the American Library Association), some schools, some scholarly journals, and other organizations. Some for-profit organizations will still show up in this group, and you will encounter sites such as Wikipedia. These are all valuable in a given context, just be aware of what you are viewing and who is providing it. Focusing on a .edu domain will drive you toward schools/university websites, as well as some academic journals. Open source content will often show up here as well, as many universities host their own digital spaces for journals, data sets, faculty publications, or student projects and theses. 


  • social distancing guidelines AND Covid-19
    • ​Page after page, you will see information published by and/or hosted by federal, state, and even local government agencies.
  • social distancing guidelines AND Covid-19​
    • ​This search will be retrieving guidelines, white papers, and other information relevant to specific university policy during the crisis.
  • social distancing guidelines AND Covid-19​
    • ​This type of search can be one of the more diverse searches, as you will get information provided by many medical organizations (American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, etc.), Think Tanks that provide professional policy insights (Center for American Progress, World Economic Forum, etc.), and a variety of non-profit groups.
  • social distancing guidelines AND Covid-19
    • One domain that might be overlooked is that of .mil, indicating military publications. How are military service personnel being guided during this crisis? What is the federal response to COVID-19 regarding national security? Where are these discussions happening? This type of search could provide insight.